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“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris

The above quote by William Morris basically sums up the major guidelines of how to approach downsizing your possessions. Sounds simple, right? Yet for many of us getting rid of stuff, and not letting more pile up in the blink of an eye, can be a pretty big challenge. We get caught up on details: not knowing where to start; apprehension about letting go of precious memories; the fear of accidentally getting rid of something we’ll end up needing in future….In reality there are some pretty simple steps you can follow.

9.1 Bite-Sized Is Best: Making Downsizing Manageable!

“One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.” Francis Jourdain

The first thing to do in taking on the project of downsizing is to break your space down into manageable sections so that you don’t get overwhelmed. If you try and take on the idea of sorting through all your worldly possessions at once you will very likely get discouraged and give up before even getting started. So set yourself up for success! How you choose to compartmentalize the task of sorting stuff obviously depends on what type of space you have. Some people choose to go room by room.If that’s too much to tackle easily, break it down even more. Start with one closet. Others prefer to sort according to “type” of object, irrespective of their location in the house. You might want to sort all your books in one go, then all your coats, and so on. See which approach speaks to you, choose one, and get started!

Try and accomplish one “space” (tupperware cupboard, shoe rack, etc) or type of objects (bills, dishes,socks…) per day or week, whichever is reasonable within the context of your life schedule. Try not to stretch out the time between goals longer than a week however as you’ll be in danger of losing momentum! Give yourself a timeline in which to finish your first sweep of purging (“first” because you may well find yourself wanting to downsize even further once you’ve gotten a taste for the joys of a clutterless life!). Then again, life does happen, so be forgiving with yourself if something major sets you back a week or so.

The important thing is to keep your sights on each goal you’ve set and approach them one at a time, giving yourself some kind of reward or validation as you tick them off your list. At the same time you want to hold in your mind your commitment to yourself and your ultimate vision of a fully minimalist living space.

If something throws you off temporarily, get back in the saddle as soon as possible. In fact, working on downsizing can be an incredible tool for processing emotional baggage at the same time as a practical life improvement. You may find that in times of trouble at work or in your relationships sorting through and getting rid of excess possessions feels even more liberating and relevant then usual. You can use the project of downsizing as a kind of “anchor,” giving you a sense of control in your life when things seem like they’re leaning towards chaos.

9.2 Filter #1: Be Purely Practical

“You know you have reached perfection of design not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Once you’ve figured out in what order you’re going to tackle your possessions, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. What stays, what goes? How do you decide? The first filter to apply is a purely practical one. What do you actually use on a very regular basis? For this to work you need to put yourself in as rational and “ruthless,” for lack of a better word, a mindset as possible.This can be quite the challenge for some people, but it’s a necessary step. If you think you’re going to break in the face of emotional attachment to certain things you don’t use, you may want to have a friend on hand to help you make the hard decisions and talk it through. ‘Are you really ever going to read this? It’s been on your shelf for over a year”…”Have you ever actually worn those shoes?” and so on. If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable doing this with, or can’t find anyone who has the time, be your own best friend. Ask yourself the hard questions. Be honest with yourself.

In an interview with Popsugar blogger Maggie Winterfeldt, co-founder of estate-sale website Everything But The House Jacquie Denny recommends getting rid of anything you don’t use 80% of the time.[1] Think about that for a second. That’s 24 days out of a 30-day month. What do you actually use that much in your household? If you were to apply this literally, you would likely cut down on a the majority of your possessions in no time flat. There will inevitably a couple things in there that you feel incredibly attached to for reasons you may or may not understand. That’s where the second filter comes in. Put those items you feel strongest about aside and once you’ve gone through the second phase you should know whether or not they’re “worth” holding on to.

9.3 Filter #2: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Now that you’ve gotten through the ruthlessness phase of the elimination process, you’ll want to take a closer look at the items you felt heart-wrenchingly attached to or uncertain about giving away. “But what else is there to think about really, if I don’t use it, I don’t use it!” you may say. Think back to the William Morris quote and his advice to get rid of anything “you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Every minimalist out there has a couple things they own just because they find them beautiful. Sure, marrying functionality to aesthetics is the ideal. Good for you if everything you find beautiful is also super practical and useful 80% of the time. But even if that’s not the case, there’s value to having a few things around that simply make your heart sing because you find them so incredibly beautiful or love them for some particular, unique quality.

The reason you want to apply the Practical filter first is that it’s really easy to get tripped up thinking everything you own is beautiful in some way. It’s easy to dreg up stories and reasons why you just can’t get rid of those 5 boxes of your kids crayola drawings or those 3 sweaters your gramma knit for you. But the truth is there are only a couple that you truly love, that you would keep even if you didn’t feel obliged by conventional ideas of sentimentality. Basically, you have to start by giving yourself permission to not love every single thing anyone close to you ever gave you. There’s nothing wrong with not cherishing all those christmas cards and knick knacks that serve no purpose in your life. Another thing to consider if perhaps you like something enough to not want to just dump it in a donation box but you would feel fine about giving it to someone you think would appreciate it. Finding intentional homes for things you care about can make getting rid of them actually pleasant instead of heart-wrenching.

9.4 Another Thing to Consider in Modern Day Downsizing

“The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.” Elise Boulding

More and more people are choosing to eliminate clutter through digitization. There are some people who still prefer the quality and physicality of cds or vinyls, but if you may want to consider converting your music library to digital if you’re a musicophile who wants to be both minimalist and mobile! You can also digitize your boxes of photographs, letters or other memorabilia by simply scanning them and keeping them in organized folders on your computer, external hard drive or in “the cloud.” Even if you prefer physical to digital when it comes to personal objects, at the very least you can radically decrease the amount clutter in your home by switching to e-billing, online banking and subscribing to the digital version of any magazines, newspapers or catalogues you read on the regular.

9.5 Dealing With Emotional Attachment

It’s already been said, but it’s almost inevitable that you will experience some pangs of emotional attachments to come up as you attempt to ruthlessly divest yourself of excess clutter. Part of you may even balk at the idea of calling some of the stuff you’re contemplating letting go of “clutter.” That’s all fine and normal. The important thing is to not get stuck at that point. You need to identify what it’s going to take for you to follow through on your plan to downsize and then do whatever it takes.

If it means having a rigid timeline (i.e. not giving yourself time to think too much about what you’re getting rid of!), do it. If it means having a family member or close friend accompany you through the process of figuring out what you really love enough to keep, call them up and make a date! Or maybe you’re the type who just needs to keep a list of the positive impact having less stuff is going to have on your life that you can look at whenever you’re in danger of faltering. Perhaps you need all of the above! The point is, give yourself the conditions you need to meet your goal.

9.6 Keeping the Clutter at Bay Post-Downsizing

A handy habit to adopt as you move forward post-downsizing (yes! You will get there!) is that of always getting rid of something whenever your bring something new into your household. This means anytime you need or want something new for whatever reason you take the time to go through what you already have and find something you can give away (obviously to be truly in the holistic minimalist spirit you want to give away or have the item repurposed rather than throwing it in the garbage!). What this means in the long run is maintaining the delicate balance of input and output so that you never accidentally accumulate clutter again! Also, if you choose to go the second-hand route when shopping for whatever it is you need, you can conveniently drop off whatever item(s) you’re getting rid of at the same time!

9.7 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Confucius

Confucius said it best. Don’t overcomplicate things, just get started! The more time you spend contemplating the idea of downsizing from every angle, the more you will likely think yourself into a corner. Why not just take a deep breath and dive in!?

  1. Divide your space into easily accomplishable sections. You can choose whether to do this by space (wardrobe, pantry, etc.) or by type of item (cutlery, pants, books…).
  2. Set your goals and timeline. Depending on your schedule, aim for one section a day or week. Avoid going more than one week without taking care of a section if possible.
  3. Apply the practical filter. Get rid of anything you don’t use regularly. Set aside anything that you feel exceptionally attached to for the second filter.
  4. Apply the love filter. Go through the stuff that is perhaps not practical but which you feel extremely attached to. Keep only the things that you absolutely love. Find good homes for the things that don’t make the cut!
  5. Consider digitizing. What do you feel less attached to having physical copies of? Convert any cds, photos, papers you can and archive them appropriately.
  6. Don’t underestimate the emotional attachment factor. Create conditions that will allow you to accomplish your downsizing goals. Focus on the positive effects of downsizing, get feedback from a friend, give yourself short timelines to work with. Whatever works for you!
  7. Moving forward, always give something away whenever you get something new. This will help you avoid accumulating more clutter over time!
  1. 6 Rules to Follow When Downsizing Your Belongings,” Maggie Winterfeldt, popsugar.com, 2018

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